I have a request — less of a How to-Be a Girl, and more of a how-to-be-a-human-being-in-the-21st-century problem. My Google fu SUCKS. I can't find anything (anything USEFUL, anyway) on Google. This is not good. I hate having to trawl back through ancient blog posts to find links I remember reading about but can't relocate through a search engine, and am absolutely hopeless at background checking new acquaintances and getting answers to late-night, "I wonder whatever happened to that girl Randi from high school who's not on Facebook?" wonderings.
You have mentioned that you are a Google Wizard, and I am still ROYALLY envious of your account of being able to find a dude armed only with his first name and one of his past jobs to work from. I mean, I try to search for things using a variety of words specifically applicable to what I'm looking for, but it's failing me. I am not good with Google searches. I fear that I will be stuck in Wikipedia and IMDb land forever without learning a better way. Help? Please?
Let me just say right here that I feel weird about doing this! I only use my Google fu (niiice) for evil, pretty much. There, that feels better. I know we talk about not snooping, never snooping, don't snoop, but snooping is how I acquired this skill. And it's not just Google. Allow me to highlight some tricks to finding whatever it is you MUST FIND on the internet. Use at your own risk:
Who have they boned since we broke up?
Myspace was good for one thing: alerting you immediately to whoever your ex got with after you (if that new person was actually a new person). On Myspace, when a new friend was added, they were at the bottom of their friend list. Now, you have to use Twitter for that. So, the minute you break up, go look at who they follow/who follows them on Twitter. The top person on each list is the most recent addition. From there, you can watch over the course of days, weeks, MONTHS even, for all I care, as more people are added. Cross reference this list with their Facebook and look at the "Photos of ___" folder — both your ex's and their newest Twitter followers. If you have an hour to spare, VOILA! There they are, in the friend of a friend of a friend's "NYE 2012!!!" folder, just making out like it was going to be impossible to find pics of it on the internet.
Who is this [insert name or ethnicity or other identifying feature] they secretly dated during our courtship?
Go back through ALL of your lover's photos, and I mean all of them. Expand the "likes." One two year-old thumbs up from a person with an ümlaut in their name? Definitely that Swede. First names only are a little harder because then you have to scroll through years of three of the suspected Stephanies' wall posts to find the ONE "Fun night!" comment your lover left the correct Stephanie — as a response to her posting a photo of a piece of broiled salmon — the day after they hung out that one time three weeks after you started seeing him, but it is so worth it.
What is the wine store guy's last name?! I need to find pics to send to all my friends.
Okay, when all you have is a first name and either a school or place of employment, there are a few pretty successful ways to find this person. Using Facebook, find the page for the person's employer or the college they went to. Now scroll and scroll and keep clicking "Older Posts" at the bottom of the page. Don't stop to read anything, it's all boring. Do this dating back as far as you can stand. It takes maybe five minutes to load a few years of posts on an active page.
Now, using your computer's search function, search on their first name. Remember, if they are named something like "Matt" their name could actually be "Mathieu" so search on as few consecutive letters in their name as possible (mat) — you wouldn't want to miss them after all this work. This is how I found Paul, the wine guy. He turned out to be a very inactive Facebook user BUT he did, once, in 2010, post a brief reply to someone else's post on his employer's page about a special dinner they were hosting or something and it only took me about ten minutes to find it. And him. And his baby.
Site specific searching!
Another way of finding someone/thing is to use this SUPER AMAZING function on Google: site-specific searches. Oh man, I have had some major fun with this. That rapper who you know comments on a record collecting message board? All you need is their name or handle and the website. Make sure you use quotations around the name. This is what your search will look like:
"Stinky Fingers" site:shittyrapperstalkingtoeachother.com
And BOOM you have every single post they've ever written right at your fingertips. If you only have the person's real name, don't worry. Within message boards people slip up and you'll get to them that way too. This, of course, also works really well with college sites: colleges love to name drop on their stupid "student activities" pages or whatever and they rarely get rid of content. I think there are things with my first last name still up on my college's website from like 2001. Oof.
Load all results!
IMPORTANT: Always, when you receive your Google site-specific search results, go to the last page and click "repeat the search with the omitted results included." It will be at the very bottom there. Since you're searching on one particular site, Google will sometimes not show you everything because it thinks you will get bored of the same type of result or something? (Never.) If you don't go and tell Google to PLEASE SHOW ME EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT, you can miss that entire super long back and forth your girl had with that guy from work on Twitter six months ago — long enough that within Twitter you wouldn't be able to search for it. Thank god for Google Cache!
So say all you have is a first name. THAT IS IT. And maybe a town? Using the site specific search function, first pick a place you think they might be, like Twitter or something. Next, in order to give Google a little bit of a break, try clicking on one of the time frames they offer you over on the left. Met this person at a party two days ago? Only search for references with their name and the name of the venue that have been posted within the last week. Just take whatever piddly info you have and by narrowing down where and when to look, you make Google a much more efficient machine.
Where can I get the fake garter nylons Rihanna had on?
First try Googling:
Rihanna illusion garter.
Try to think in the vocabulary of whoever would be writing about a certain topic or advertising an item. Clothing companies wouldn't want to use the word "fake" anywhere on their site, but "illusion" works.
Google Image Search
Next, when searching for an item you've SEEN but don't know the name of, always check Google Image Search results first. You could be clicking through links from the home page for days (and no, the new preview feature of a website's homepage does not help here). In fact, sometimes an item is only described the way you would describe it in the alt text or file name for a photo of it — the actual online description of the piece may not contain any of the generic words you're using to try to get to it. Por ejemplo, Google:
"Art Nouveau" "Rose Gold" Ring
Now compare the home page results to the Image results to the Shopping results. See?
Aggregate Search Engines
Use sites like Kayak.com for looking up airfare and hotel prices since they search all the other sites you'd use. Use Shopstyle.com for fashion questions like "Long white skirt" and you'll get results from dozens of sites you probably already look at all the time. Pinterest.com is getting pretty good for generic item searches too.
Don't forget about Google Blogs search, News, etc. Blog searches are especially helpful for finding that one item or person who otherwise wouldn't show up on the internet. Fingers crossed they have a braggy sister who needed to post pictures of her bro with his new niece, Phoebe, on her recipe blog. ("George" "Phoebe" born uncle, within the past week.)
Why don't they like me anymore? I still like them.
I don't know. You didn't do anything wrong. Remember they treated you kind of crappy in the end though, right? That's not a nice thing and you want nice people in your life. You deserve nice people in your life who you don't have to beg for reassurance that they like you, or rifle through years of internet detritus to determine what went wrong, but instead will just tell you to your face. I don't know what the exact search terms are for finding someone like that, but according to my therapist, they might include:
"Love(s/d) their mother"
"No substance abuse issues"